In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

REVIEWS JAY Ruuo. "Many a Song and Many a Leccherous Lay": Tradition and Indi­ viduality in Chaucer's Lyric Poetry. Garland Studies in Medieval Litera­ ture, vol. 6. New York and London: Garland, 1992. Pp. xii, 338. $52.00. Even if "Many a Song and Many a Leccherous Lay" were not the first book­ length study of Chaucer's lyric poetry as a body of literature, its subtitle would certainly provoke immediate interest. By connecting tradition with individuality, the subtitle calls to mind Chaucer the innovator of style, theme, and technique in the narrative poetry; suggests Chaucer's growing interest in the epistemological controversy regarding the realiry of univer­ sals; and even intimates Chaucer's great achievement as a Gothic artist. Ruud acknowledges in the first chapter that Chaucer's lyric poetry does in fact invite a study in these contexts and argues that formal, philosoph­ ical, and aesthetic concerns helped Chaucer evolve the lyric form, enabling him to consider in the minor poems many of the themes and ideas treated in his longer narrative works. This "evolution," Ruud indicates, grew out ofChaucer's dissatisfaction with the impersonality ofthe conventional lyric voice and culminated in his experimentation with structure to individual­ ize the lyric speaker. This tendency, so typically Chaucerian, to push be­ yond the boundaries of convention, according to Ruud, is evident in all of the short poems and so becomes the means by which he organizes "close" readings of twenty of the lyrics in the rest of the book. In the second and third chapters, Chaucer the innovator is examined in the philosophical and occasional poems, respectively. The philosophical poems show Chaucer "altering or expanding traditional types of poetry to meet his own aesthetic needs" (p. 32). This innovation includes the use of concrete imagery to particularize abstract ideas, the creation of specific contexts through an envoy, and the alteration of conventional thematic expectations. Truth turns out not to be "the pronouncement ofone leaving this vale oftears for a better existence, but rather an exhortation about how to live a philosophical Christian life in this world" (p. 43). Gentilesse argues that nobility is attained by following the ideal moral virtue of living the truth (p. 43). Lak ofStedfastnesse, an example of the evils-of-the-age tradi­ tion, is infused with a note of hope and so evidences the "conviction that there {is) still a chance that men {might) live a life governed by natural law here and nQW" (p. 52). The Former Age, an indictment of the present age, offers an answer to the current state ofaffairs by suggesting one should live as simply as one can, "desiring no more than God sends" and according to 257 STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER natural law (p. 72). And An ABC personalizes and particularizes the con­ cept of divine love while raising the question ofhow the ideal works in the actual world. The innovative expanding and altering becomes much more pronounced in the occasional lyrics. The "everyman" speaker ofthe philosophical poems is replaced in these works by Chaucer or a caricature ofhimself, the effect of which particularizes the context, and greater emphasis is given to philo­ sophical nominalism and to the discrepancies between universal and hu­ man love. The Envoy to Scogan concerns the subject of natural affinity, Scogan being encouraged to love where it will prove fruitful-that is, to love one who is one's natural mate (p. 107). Though considered a diatribe against matrimony, The Envoy to Bukton turns out to be a recommendation of the Sacrament (p. 119), one which, ironically, is made with the speaker undercutting his own argument and thus revealing the nominalist concern regarding the dubious nature of language. Adam Scriveyn also acknowl­ edges this concern by treating the reliability of language, which is "objec­ tified in the specific case of a scribe's miswriting of the poet's words" (p. 124). The Complaint ofChaucer to His Purse ironically contrasts different kinds of love while evincing, through "examination of the possibilities of multiple connotations of words and the parody of form" (p. 129), the nominalist concern about the ability to find or to express truth. The fourth and fifth chapters consider...

pdf

Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.